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Consumer majors soup up millet strategies to seed sales

Packaged food companies have rejigged their millet-based products strategy, following initial hiccups. Many have gone back to the drawing board and relaunched products, selling ₹10-20 packs at a par with other non-millet items to induce trials, create awareness about the health benefits and expand reach to the kiranas.

Companies had ventured into the market following the government’s nudge on increasing millet consumption. Sales, however, have been sluggish due to the consumer perception that these products are not tasty and are priced high, apart from the difficulty in adding millets as ingredients in existing items – as it changes flavour – and low shelf life.

ITC, for instance, has withdrawn a multi-millet dosa batter, instead unveiling roti, paratha and dosa batter mixes that contain millets. It’s also adding millets in some snacks and confectionery products without increasing prices, and launching lower price-point packs to boost adoption and overcome the poor taste perception.

Nestle’s research and development team is partnering with the Indian Institute of Millets Research and culinary experts to improve the taste profile.

Parle Products will expand its millet-based biscuit portfolio with small packs priced at ₹20, while breakfast cereal maker Bagrry’s India is launching ₹10 sachets as with cornflakes or children’s cereal.

“Millets, as a category, is picking up, though it’s early days. There are long-term changes in habits that we are working on… it is good for the nation,” said Hemant Malik, executive director, ITC. “The first and the biggest issue to solve is the perception that the taste will be bad. Prices will gradually become better as production increases. We have put our might behind millets.”

Nestle India R&D head Jagdeep Marahar recently told analysts that millets are not the easiest of grains to be consumed or even to be processed, apart from the taste issue. “There are challenges because there are 13 types of millets, and each is different in size, hardness, in the way that we process these. They have in their inherent form, very low shelf life, which keeps the consumers away,” he said.

Companies such as ITC and Nestle have announced their intention to make millet-based products a dominant part of their portfolio. Under ITC’s Mission Millets, almost one-fourth of new food launches will be based on these grains.

Mayank Shah, senior category head at Parle Products, said taste cannot be compromised at any cost. Also, the increase in demand has led to a rise in cost. “Even now, millet cultivation is lower than demand and hence, prices are still high,” he said.

Bagrry’s India director Aditya Bagri said the company will create awareness at the shop level on the benefits of millets, as part of a strategy to encourage trials and adoption.

In the previous quarter, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) rolled out millet-based chocolate Horlicks, while Britannia launched millet bread. Nestle introduced ready-to-cook A+ Masala Millet. Several startups are also selling millet-based products.

The United Nations, at the behest of the Indian government, declared 2023 the International Year of Millets. The aim was to create awareness and increase production and consumption of the grains. India is among the top five exporters of millets and shipped out millets worth $75.46 million in FY23, compared to $62.95 million in FY22, show government data.

Dec 31,2023

Source: Economic Times